We started giving Moushumi our homemade Bengali food a few months ago. My mother was key in making this happen. She taught me some simple recipes that I ate as a little one – along with probably millions of other Indian babies! Everything is very mild, without any chili powder, but still packing lots of delicious flavors. I wasn’t sure what Moushumi would think, being used to Earth’s Best jarred foods, which are quite good, but comparatively less exciting. She loved it! Now she eats Indian food twice daily and even though she puts up with eating a jar or two when we’re out, it’s obvious that she prefers the food I make for her.
If you are looking to broaden your child’s horizons, and yours if you’re not used to cooking Indian food, here are a couple of easy recipes for you to start with.
Daal – Indian lentil soup (eaten with rice and vegetables)
1/2 cup red lentils
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp salt (add more to taste, but a bit less than your taste)
2 cups water
Clean the lentils by washing them three times in cold water (just like rice). Add the water, salt and turmeric and bring to a boil. Turn to low and let simmer until soft and cooked – approximately 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how you like it. You may need to add some more water (boiling, if possible) if it seems to be getting too dry (or you can put in less water for a thicker daal). You can let it cool and blend it in the blender for a smoother texture if desired.
We boil some peas or green beans with some carrots and potatoes; flavor it with a dash of salt and mash it up to eat with the daal and soft-cooked basmati rice. My mom always says to add a smidgen of butter and taste it – “it must taste good to you!”
Basic Bengali Chicken curry (chicken in a flavorful sauce, eaten with rice)
One boneless, skinless breast
1 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch of whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 small tomato – chopped
chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Cut chicken into small cubes and mix with salt, turmeric, cumin and coriander powder. Let marinate for about one hour. Heat oil on med-high and when hot, throw in cumin seeds (if you can’t find cumin seeds, just leave it out). Let them sizzle for a few minutes and then add onions – with a pinch of salt, and fry them until golden brown. Turning the heat down a bit, add the garlic and ginger. When you can smell the lovely aroma, add the tomato and cook until it all mixes together. It’s hard to be precise, but approximately after 10 minutes, you will see that it’s very mixed up and looking shiny, because the oil is separating from it. Add the chicken and cook until no pink is visible. Add some boiling water to cover the chicken and lightly boil until the chicken is soft. You can add the chopped cilantro at the same time. You can also add a handful of peas, baby carrots and potatoes when you add the water if you want some veggies in the curry. Let cool and blend if you need it to be a smoother texture. By the way, if you would like to make this for adults, just add some chili powder to your marinade, a fresh green chili with the onion and do not add water. Just allow the chicken to release it’s own water while it cooks and voila – you have the sauce.
If you find this to be overwhelming, trust me, after you do this a few times – you will become a pro! Also, I make enough to last for several days so I’m not spending too much time cooking. And, of course, you can change it around to fit your taste buds – a little less cumin, a little more coriander, etc. I hope that your baby enjoys these recipes as much as mine.
*This is actually written by my husband, David. Capoeira is one of his great loves.
One of the most amazing imports from Brazil to the U.S. in recent years has been capoeira, an athletic game that is part sport, part dance and part martial art. Capoeira academies are springing up in most major cities, and offer a fascinating glimpse of Brazilian history, music, and culture, while at the same time providing a fun way to get in shape and also learn self-defense.
Capoeira is “played” when two people enter a circle of on-lookers, and engage in an unchoreographed dialogue of movements. As the circle sings in Portuguese, and plays traditional instruments, the two players move to the rhythms in a fluid interaction of kicks, swaying torsos, and amazing acrobatics. At times the music is slow, and the game is playful and low to the ground, at other times the music accelerates and the interaction becomes more martial and can appear quite dangerous, although in fact movements are exquisitely controlled and violence is not the goal.
Capoeira was developed by African slaves in Brazil, and may have some of its origins in African traditions. The way that martial elements are concealed as a dance may also reflect the conditions under which the slaves trained for self-defense.
How does one “win” a capoeira game? On the one hand, the game is played for the sake of beauty, and also communication, just as two ballroom dancers communicate with each other in a conversation of subtle and dramatic movements. On the other hand, capoeira introduces an element of treachery in the midst of the dance; players are looking for a chance to tug at a supporting leg with one of many different techniques, so that the other player lands sitting on the ground. The most important rule in capoeira is to avoid sitting, and avoid having the other player sweep your legs. A well-executed leg sweep is perfectly timed, so that someone lands softly. Both players, and the crowd, recognize the skill of the player who is successful in sweeping the other. Mastery can also be demonstrated by complicated acrobatics, or by catching the other player with a kick; it is good form to pull the kick at the last moment to avoid hurting the other player, and good form for the other player to acknowledge being caught.
Capoeira is also an ideal activity for children. Many academies have special children’s classes, for children as young as five years. The combination of music, athletics, and culture is sure to be a blast for little ones. If they can play, then they are ready to start playing capoeira.
Is your house being taken over by giant plastic toys that sing and squeak and talk? Are you worried about mysterious chemicals and potentially toxic paints? Are you curious what it may be like to live without them? Yes, it’s possible! We made a decision to buy only wooden toys made with non-toxic paints and lacquers for Moushumi before she was born. This was prompted by the scary news that even long-trusted companies such as Fisher-Price have had recalls due to lead in recent years.
We have let our friends and family know that we prefer these sorts of toys, sometimes by saying just that, and in other cases more subtly by saying “check out these great toy sites: oompa.com and moolka.com!” Those are great sites for non-toxic toys and there are others as well – you just have to research a bit. A particularly nice feature of these sites is that you can see where the product is made as well as the safety criteria it has met. In fact, both sites have ways for you to actually pick the country of origin. There are Haba and Kathe Kruse from Germany, Vilac from France and Green Toys from right here in the U.S. among lots of other unique brands from around the world.
We also feel like we are making some progress towards being more “green” by using toys made from environmentally friendly materials: wood rather than plastics. For example, one of our favorite companies, Plan Toys, uses only non-toxic materials, recycled and recyclable packaging with soybased inks for printing, synthetic free rubberwood, formaldahyde free glue, and so on.
The wooden toys from these companies address our safety concerns, but they also look great, and never seem to take over the way plastic ones seem to. They often come in modern, chic styles and win awards for design. It’s a far cry from the quaint craft-shop look (nice in its own way, of course) that you might ordinarily associate with wooden toys. Many of the toys are so cool that adults want to play with them, too!
While at the beginning we were a bit daunted by the thought of avoiding ubiquitous plastic toys, it has turned out to be quite easy, and rewarding to do so. We look forward to using these durable and healthy toys for our next child, and even perhaps passing them on to our grandchildren.
It was Moushumi’s 7th month birthday and she was going to choose her destiny! For such an important event, it was of course necessary to get dolled up. I wore a beautiful silk sari, and Moushumi wore an adorable red sari that mimics the one worn by a bride in our Bengali culture. Even my husband, who is American, wore Indian clothes. The occasion was Moushumi’s Annaprashan, a traditional Bengali-Hindu rite-of-passage ritual that marks the occasion of an infant’s first taste of solid food, typically rice. It also involves a fun pick-your-destiny game for the child.
My parents, who live close by, had the event at their house with delicious catered as well as home-made Indian food. My parents invited all of their close friends because in our culture, it is customary for everyone to come and bless the child. Many people came long distances to share in this special day with us, including some of my oldest friends. Several of my husband’s family members were also able to come for the whole weekend, which was wonderful. My husband’s father had an important role to play, helping my stepfather feed Moushumi the rice pudding that is the centerpiece of the ceremony. He wore Indian clothes, and handled his slippery-soled Indian shoes very well. It was truly a multicultural event, with two grandfathers from different cultures trying to feed an agreeable but confused baby.
It’s worth describing Moushumi’s outfit in detail, to convey the cuteness. She wore a red silk sari, and jewelry, including anklets, a garland and a special head-dress. She looked adorable! When we came into the room where the guests were waiting for us, she gave everyone a big smile. She was the star and I think she knew it!
Both my stepfather and my father-in-law took turns feeding Moushumi her “payesh” or rice pudding. The payesh was blessed by a priest during a “puja” or worship at our house earlier that morning. She basically spit it out, but that was good enough for us. We then played the destiny game, which involves presenting the child with a tray holding different objects. Everyone watched intently to see what she would pick. Minutes before, my mother had run out to the yard and grabbed a clump of soil with grass still attached. That was the first thing Moushumi picked up – and then she promptly threw it down on the floor! People joked that this meant she was rejecting a life as a landowner. She briefly touched the book and then picked up the pen. My family was very happy about that because we have many professors, doctors, and writers in our family and the pen signifies learning and intellect. She finally picked up the gold bangle and everyone cheered – you can’t go wrong with gold, it signifies wealth. As her mother, I conclude that this game showed us a future where she is curious about everything and will make many messes. After the ceremony, Moushumi had a quick wardrobe change into a red dress and was passed around to everyone at the party! We then ate and drank and chatted while the star took a well-deserved nap.
It was a great, if somewhat exhausting, day. Although she may not remember a thing, Moushumi was very aware at the time that something interesting was happening – eating something new, having people fawn all over her, wearing lots of funny stuff, and being able to grab and throw things. She got meet lots of new people as well as see some family members that she doesn’t see often. I believe she felt the love – and really, that is the point of events like these, isn’t it – whatever culture it may be? Despite differences in culture, everyone who took part understood that it was an occasion to come together and celebrate the miraculous beauty of a new child.
We were living in Germany when I became pregnant. I knew it would be a challenge having a baby in the land of fine sausage, tasty beer and stylish eyeglasses, because of the language barrier and because of a thousand tiny and not-so-tiny cultural differences. But my experience ended up being extremely positive, because, of course, the whole world loves babies, and everyone offers to help – no matter where you are. I remember one day, walking past a coffee shop, when I had one of those sudden, unexplained pregnancy pains, and people from the café rushed to bring me a chair and make sure I was okay. Shopkeepers were solicitous, and I established a great rapport with the pharmacists at my neighborhood pharmacy; it’s where everybody knew my name. From interviewing midwives in German, to taking a prenatal yoga class, to trying to communicate with the doctor about our unborn child’s body parts during the sonograms – all of these stretched and improved my German, and contributed to an incredible experience that I will always cherish. My daughter was finally born last August with the help of a wonderful midwife, who drove us to the hospital at 2 a.m. in her Mercedes!
We spent another 4 months in Germany before finally moving back to the States, which made a total of 4 and a half years for my husband and me. We still miss many things about Germany, like the Fußgängerzone (pedestrian zone), which is basically the whole downtown where everyone walks around shopping, sitting at cafes, riding bikes, playing in the fountains. It’s very relaxing compared to driving everywhere! Our experience in Germany has enriched our lives, and also lead us to discover some great baby things – schlafsacks (sleep sacks), woolen onesies which are great for winter, beautiful organic woolen clothes, and also wonderful wooden toys, made with non-toxic paints and lacquers, which is important since absolutely everything ends up in our daughter’s mouth.
In addition to being an international traveler, my daughter is also of international heritage. I am Indian from Kolkata and my husband is of mixed European descent. I am excited that I can pass on my language and culture to her. Fortunately, my parents will also be a big help as they live very close by. In fact, her first words have been Bengali ones – “eta” which means this; “Baba” which means father; now her favorite word is “bass” which means something like “there – that’s done!” She uses “bass” when she’s done with something, or more commonly when she throws something down! My husband and I are always so amazed that she’s already bilingual – pointing to her nose, teeth, hair, bellybutton – when asked in English or Bengali. It’s amazing how our brain incorporates languages. I know she will want to learn other languages as well one day. Maybe German will be one of them. She loves the word “Gesundheit” – it always makes her laugh!
I am so pleased that my family is as international as it is. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love that our world feels big – like there are so many possibilities, so many ways to communicate, so many friends, so many different things to eat and, sometimes to my husband’s dismay, so many places to shop! Our next big trip will be either visiting Germany or going to India, where my family there awaits with baited breath to see my “shada” (white) husband and our wonderful daughter.